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A suspect eyed in the unsolved 1964 slaying of a girl in West Chester

For 47 years, the ghost of Mary Constance Evans has haunted the West Chester area, tormenting those who knew her, and the many more who knew of her, with the mystery of her death.

Private detective Eileen Auch Law has been following Connie Evans' case for years. (Tom Gralish/Staff)
Private detective Eileen Auch Law has been following Connie Evans' case for years. (Tom Gralish/Staff)Read more

For 47 years, the ghost of Mary Constance Evans has haunted the West Chester area, tormenting those who knew her, and the many more who knew of her, with the mystery of her death.

Hunches have abounded as to who killed her. And one private eye claims now to have cracked the case. But beyond a reasonable doubt?

Connie Evans vanished on her 15th birthday, Oct. 24, 1964, after setting out from her West Goshen Township home on a two-mile walk to West Chester. Volunteers by the hundreds, helicopters, horses, scuba divers, planes, and bloodhounds took part in the search, which dragged on for weeks.

On Day 36, a man walking his dog and collecting pinecones in Easttown Township found a shallow grave. In it was the body of Connie Evans. The coroner found she had been strangled.

With a killer on the loose, a new unease crept into the cozy college town and, as months passed with no arrest, made itself at home.

The late A. Alfred Delduco, then Chester County district attorney, fought to keep the investigation alive. At the one-year mark, he was hopeful. "Somebody is going to talk some day," he told a reporter. "It's a pretty damning thing to have on your conscience."

At the two-year mark, he conceded: "We're still struggling with that one . . .. It keeps bothering me."

That sentiment was widely shared. Fran Kofke, then a West Goshen police officer, closed his sideline furniture business, the case so consumed his time. "It wasn't just me," he said. "Everyone worked it long and hard."

So long and hard that the county's file on Connie Evans grew to 2,000 pages.

Eileen Auch Law was just 11 when Evans was murdered. It had an indelible effect on her, because her parents forbade her to ride her bike into West Chester after that.

But well past childhood - working as a secretary in the District Attorney's Office, a paralegal, a deputy sheriff - Law found herself still mulling the case. She started her own file. Eventually, inspired in part by the mystery, she became a private detective.

In late 1998, Law met up with others bedeviled by the case. Two retired police officers, Thomas W. Flick Jr. of West Goshen and Phillip Potter of West Chester, came by her office on unrelated business, and spied a folder on her desk with the familiar name "Connie Evans." They soon were joined by former state police commander Richard Weimer.

They talked for four hours and vowed to collaborate. Over the years, they met sporadically to share information, gleaned from case files and fresh interviews.

Law said that Flick, who died in 2006, was convinced the murderer had been questioned early on by police.

Someone had seen a man driving erratically on Phoenixville Pike with his arm locked around a young girl's neck. The description matched that of a convicted rapist and child molester. From a photo lineup, the witness ID'd him as the man in the car.

Kofke recalled interviewing the suspect, who he said was a "town drunk" and the subject of several domestic-abuse calls. "When he was sober, he was a nice guy outwardly," Kofke said. "But we also knew he used to beat the hell out of his wife."

He repeatedly denied involvement in the murder, and in the end, was let go for insufficient evidence. His name is being withheld by The Inquirer because he never was charged. Nor will he be, as he died in the 1980s.

Law and her cohorts learned the man had told police his car was stolen but he never had filed a report. Months after the murder, the burned-out shell was found in Tredyffrin Township. Further, she said, he had two residences: one around the corner from Evans' house, another a block from where her body was found.

Law interviewed his relatives, who detailed his troubled past, from juvenile offenses to the rape and molestation conviction that put him in Eastern State Penitentiary.

"I don't have the smoking gun," she said, "but all the puzzle pieces started to fit."

He had not been the sole suspect. Evans' 15-year-old boyfriend, who was supposed to meet her midway on her walk to West Chester, was questioned and cleared.

A rumor, circulating in recent years, that another man confessed in a suicide note proved unfounded, Law said.

So confident was she of the murderer's identity that she recently called Evans' divorced parents.

"I'm still shaking," George Evans said in a phone interview from his New Mexico home. "I don't know what to think."

His ex-wife, Connie Evans, who still lives in the Philadelphia area, said Law's call was a shock, but appreciated nonetheless. "It's nice to know people didn't forget," she said.

The state police say they haven't forgotten, either.

The Evans murder - among J Troop's 39 unsolved cases - "has been the subject of countless reviews and assessments since 1964," said Lt. Jeremy Richard, who heads the troop's criminal-investigations unit.

Investigators are eager to speak with Law, he said, and "would love to be able to validate her information so that we can give people closure."

But her burden of proof is less exacting than law enforcement's, Richard added. "She doesn't have to stand before a judge or establish probable cause."

Kofke, for his part, said Law's analysis reinforced what he and others believed for 47 years.

"I just wish we had DNA," he said. "Otherwise, there will always be naysayers."

One of them may be the victim's father.

"It sounds like he probably did it, but he's dead," said George Evans. "He didn't confess. So no one will ever know for sure."